Grace Notes: Accepting our God-given temperaments

When it comes to resolutions, we often set ourselves up for failure. We clean out closets, do some sit-ups, and then by the end of January we’re back to the same old behaviors.

But one resolution really makes sense, which is discerning what our basic temperaments are.

Some of us are shy by nature, while others are always hogging the limelight and loving it. Some folks see the proverbial glass as half full while others see it as dangerously low. Some tend to analyze everything, while others sit back and enjoy the scenery.

In a wonderful book called “The Temperament God Gave You,” authors Art and Laraine Bennett describe four personality traits that seem hard-wired.

There are melancholic people who tend to be moody and critical of others. Phlegmatic folks are easy going and loyal, but hard to get motivated, while the choleric thrive on activity and a long to-do list. And then there are the sanguine, social butterflies who love pleasing others and being in the limelight.

You see the personality differences in the smallest of children. One toddler walks into a room giggling and smiling and waving at the adults, causing everyone to burst into laughter.

Another stands clinging to her mama’s skirt, very cautious and shy. One child wants to be the boss in every situation, while another doesn’t mind being the follower.

There are good and bad points to each temperament. The extreme of the choleric is someone who cannot sit still even on vacation. The melancholic may fall into serious self-doubt.

But once you know what your temperament is, you can work to overcome the pitfalls. As St. Augustine said, “Know thyself, and thy faults, and thus live.”

Each of the four temperaments has a specific sin associated with it. The melancholic struggles with envy, while the choleric battles arrogance. The phlegmatic may become lazy, and the sanguine is especially tempted by lust.

It is helpful to recognize your God-given temperament and pray to achieve the changes you may need to make.

An inherently shy person is not likely to become the life of the party, but she may, through the grace of God, develop ways to be friendlier. A choleric will not stop achieving, but may learn to stop and smell the roses once in a while.

As 2011 unfolds, instead of joining a gym or embarking on a new diet, I’m trying to accept the personality God gave me. I’m also hoping for the grace to overcome its dark side, resist its typical sins and emphasize its strengths. Keep me in your prayers, dear readers!

Lorraine Murray's latest book is "Death of a Liturgist," a wild and wacky mystery set at a fictional church in Decatur. She also is the author of  "The Abbess of Andalusia," a biography of Flannery O'C0nnor. Her e-mail address is